The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has given the Australian Government a year to live up to its international human rights obligations with respect to the Northern Territory Intervention, mandatory immigration detention, anti-terrorism laws, and violence against women.
Phil Lynch, Director of the Human Rights Law Resource Centre, said the report's criticisms of Australia's human rights record were part of an ongoing constructive dialogue between the committee and the Federal Government.
"The first point to note is that the report contains observations both as to positive aspects and concerns, and it's not unusual for the vast majority of the report to focus on areas of concern," he told Lawyers Weekly.
"The process is intended to be a constructive dialogue which aims to further and better our country's compliance with human rights obligations, and that's done primarily through constructive criticism rather than backslapping."
The report card released over the weekend rated Australia on its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The report gave the Australian government positive feedback on three key initiatives - the parliament's apology to indigenous peoples, the recent announcement of a national human rights consultation, and the 2008 establishment of the National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.
However, the bulk of the following points focused on areas of concern, including the Government's failure to provide a mechanism for compensation of the Stolen Generations, excessive use of force by police (including the use of Taser guns and lethal force) and the need to establish an independent body to investigate complaints about police brutality.
The Australian judiciary also came under fire in the report for making little reference to international human rights law, including the Covenant. Lynch said this state of affairs was a reflection of the nation's wider shortfallings in the areas of human rights education and policy.
"It is, of course, partly a function of human rights not being a core aspect of legal training and education," said Lynch, "but also in part a function of not having comprehensive national human rights legislation in the way that comparative jurisdictions such as New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom do."
The Committee's recommendations are available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/docs/co/CCPR-C-AUS-CO5-CRP1.doc
- Laura MacIntyre